Here in West Tennessee we have finally been hit with summertime. So far we had managed to avoid the worst of it, but now we’re reaching our regular daytime temperatures of 95 degrees with 80 per cent relative humidity. I hate it. If I were to win the lottery, the first thing I would do is to buy a summer home in the mountains of North Carolina. Not Minnesota or Maine—can you say black fly, boys and girls?
In my estimation, this is the best time of the year to write. Too hot to ride my horse, too hot to drive my other horse, too miserable to garden (not that I ever do), too hot to shop. We hunker down inside under the air conditioning and think of Christmas.
That is why we in our local mystery writers’ group, Malice in Memphis, are finishing up final edits on the mystery short stories we’ve been working on for much too long. We started the project to get our non-published members up and writing. The stories all have something to do with crime in some well-known place in Memphis.
During the journey from ideas to final draft, everyone has learned and grown, not just the members who had never written a word before. And it’s a journey that every writer takes every time we sit down at the computer or pull out the yellow pad.
Ideas are not the problem.
Mystery writers search out neat ways to kill off characters everywhere they go. Romance writers see possibilities for conflicts between lovers in newspapers, television, casual conversations that pop on that light in our heads that make us think, “What if…”
Then come the nerves. Next comes the imperfect first page. How many of us have written and re-written that first page or that first chapter, sent it to contests, rewritten for more contests and not gotten further?
Eventually, we have to kick the ladder out from under ourselves, stop revising and plough on to the end before we look back. Then comes the tough part. Rewriting and editing. My friend Pat Potter sends in a book to her editor, who tells her how wonderful it is, gives her a few little notes and is happy. I’m not that good. I invariably get five or six or ten pages of rewrites. Unfortunately, I have always had wonderful editors. They are invariably right. I am the first editor on our short stories. I hope I am half as good.
I can’t remember who said, “I write novels. I’m not good enough to write short stories.” To write short means to write tight. Short strokes reveal a setting in a couple of sentences, put us inside a character’s head in a few words, cut out all the detritus without lessening the impact. It’s tough. But it’s also an excellent exercise. I think we have all learned to write tighter, to pick and choose our plots and characters more carefully. I only hope what we’ve learned will carry over into writing books. Maybe I can cut down my revision letters from ten pages to five.